Disney does food allergies with the best of intentions.


So, you know how I’m always saying I’d like a push from a consumer level rather than government regulations or mandates regarding food allergies?  This is what I’m talking about:

On our first trip we asked one of the chefs why they do such a wonderful job accommodating food allergic children at Disney World, he said, “We want the repeat business.”  It would be wonderful if other resorts would take this cue from Disney and realize that if they accommodate food allergic children and their families, we will return with pleasure and continue to be loyal customers.

Check out the full article by Lisa Giuriceo on Allergy Eats, it’s honest, inspiring and gives hope.  Someday we’ll be safe.  Someday accidents won’t happen.  I just may have to save my pennies & book a Disney vacation.

Former logo of the Walt Disney World Resort, u...

Sadly, my only dream is to not go into anaphylactic shock.

It’s Food Allergy Awareness Week!


It’s Food Allergy Awareness Week again, and guess what?  Food allergies and the food-allergic are still here… and we’re still allergic.  We’re still informing you about cross-contamination and safety.

A song from Kyle Dine:

Some #FAAW tweets from my #FoodAllergy tweeps:

https://twitter.com/#!/nut_freemom/status/202064341778964481

https://twitter.com/#!/chupieandjsmama/status/202036109222477827

https://twitter.com/#!/susanweissman/status/202084480452788224

https://twitter.com/#!/allergicgirl/status/202010024929800192

https://twitter.com/#!/iknowtiffany/status/202001615715176448

https://twitter.com/#!/FoodAllergyBuzz/status/201990572003704832

https://twitter.com/#!/wegohealth/status/202073874177851393

https://twitter.com/#!/AllergicVegan/status/202112986045874176

A lot of people push for government recognition or regulation.  I look for a consumer push, and recognition from the general populace.  We can all agree that we need to convey the seriousness of cross-contamination with foods… at schools, in restaurants, at home… and everywhere.

Learn more about what you can do here:  Raising Awareness, Making an Impact

Check out my Food Allergy related posts here:  Allergies

Photo of skin test about 15 minutes after the ...

Photo of skin test about 15 minutes after the application of allergens and the scratching. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hope to do the Food Allergy Walk in Pittsburgh again this year.  Perhaps I can pull together a team or get even more sponsors than last year?  Your donations were incredible last year.

Also… don’t forget, Adults can have food allergies too.  We don’t “grow out” of them.  We can’t “just pick it off” or “have just a little”.  It’s a very serious thing.

So, how are you celebrating Food Allergy Awareness Week?

From FAI :: “Give It Up!” for Food Allergy Awareness Week!


From the FAI

—– Forwarded Message —–
From: Food Allergy Initiative <info@faiusa.org>
To: [-mE.]
Sent: Monday, May 9, 2011 4:26 PM
Subject: Fw: FAAW – FAI’s Give It Up Campaign & Poster Contest

Food Allergy Initiative
Food Allergy Awareness Week — May 8 thru 15, 2011

“Give It Up!” for Food Allergy Awareness Week

Food Allergy Awareness Week is here! Join FAI’s 2011 “Give It Up” advocacy campaign and show your support for the 12 million Americans with food allergies—including some 3 million children. Here’s how it works:

  • Show your support by giving up a favorite food for the week, a day, or just one meal.
  • Write your elected officials, urging them to increase federal funding for research that will lead to a cure. (If you wish, you can add your story to the letters we’ve prepared for you.) The federal government only spends about $28 million a year on food allergy research—far less than on other important diseases. It’s time to solve this major public health problem!
  • Enter our poster contest! Enter on your own, or have family and friends join in the fun. You could win a Divvies gift certificate!
Since 2007, Food Allergy Awareness Week has put the spotlight on life-threatening food allergies. FAI and other concerned organizations will be conducting activities throughout the week.

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TODAY AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

Please help us get the word out! Share this e-mail—and be sure to take a look at these news stories:
  • NBC Nightly News and MSNBC ran a compelling three-part story on the impact of food allergies on children, which cites results from an upcoming FAI-sponsored study and features interviews with 6-year-old Lily Martin and 15-year-old Morgan Smith—Colorado students with life-threatening food allergies.
  • Read a statement from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—the agency responsible for most federally funded food allergy research.

Our Mission

FAI supports research to find a cure for life-threatening food allergies; clinical activities to improve diagnosis and treatment; public policy to increase federal funding for research and create safer environments for those afflicted; and educational programs to make the hospitality industry, schools, day care centers, and camps safer.
Food Allergy Initiative
515 Madison Avenue, Suite 1912 | New York, NY 10022-5403
Phone: 855-FAI-9604 | Fax: 917-338-5130 | info@faiusa.org
Privacy Policy | Email Preferences
Copyright © 2011 Food Allergy Initiative. All Rights Reserved.

That’s right, it’s FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK!

Get a proclamation from your state governor that says “diarrhea”!


Food Allergy Awareness Week

FAAW

So, Food Allergy Awareness Week 2011 is still a little far off, but at the same time it’s quickly approaching.

Personally, I’m all about pushing it from a consumer-level rather than having some government mandates handed down to reluctant (and perhaps allergen-ignorant) business owners.

But, at the same time, I see the monumental importance of government recognition.  It spreads awareness and gives hope to those of us trying to express the validity and seriousness of food allergies and anaphylaxis.

So, I urge you to do your part, and write to the governor of your state asking for them to declare recognition of Food Allergy Awareness Week.  From the FAAN website:

Take ActionFood Allergy Awareness Week: May 8-14, 2011

Ask your Governor to Issue a Food Allergy Awareness Week Proclamation

Issuing a Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW) proclamation is a great way to help raise awareness in your State!

Ask your Governor to declare May 8-14, 2011 Food Allergy Awareness Week!

In 2010, FAAW was recognized in a RECORD 37 STATES! Let’s break this record in 2011!

As of Feb 8, 2011, only one proclamation has been issued (Minnesota). Only 49 more states to go!

So, what are you waiting for?  It only takes a few minutes, and you may even get a nifty official-looking document from your governor with a state seal that has the word “diarrhea” on it.  I mean, how funny is that?


Prepping for Food Allergy Awareness Week 2011


Okay, so I’m on a roll this morning.  That Subway stuff struck a nerve.  It reminded me that I would like to have more consumer-driven responses to food allergy issues, and less government mandates.  Food Allergy Awareness Week is not for a few months (May 8-14, 2011), but it doesn’t mean that you can’t start getting ready now.

I just wrote to the Food Network, requesting some Food Allergy Awareness.  I used their contact form, and this is what I had to say…

I’m a big fan of all the Food Network shows.  I’d love to see an Iron Chef battle where they can’t use any of the “top 8” allergens.  I am allergic to shellfish, and always recoil slightly when it’s a lobster or crab battle… or when the inevitable prawn works its way into a dish.  There is a Food Allergy Awareness week every May.  It would be great timing for such an event… and really help the allergy awareness and cross-contamination cause.  There are MANY food-allergic foodies out there!

I’m sure you’re aware that the top 8 allergens are Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shellfish, Soy, & Wheat.  TO have an Iron Chef battle where they ahd to prepare meals without any of the top 8 allergens would be truly epic, and help show others out there that there ARE indeed alternatives & work-arounds when dealing with a life-threatening allergy.  Food allergy awareness week this year will be May 8-14, 2011.

Thank you for your time, I hope to hear your thoughts on this matter!

-Eric

I’d like to ask that you also write your own letter or email.  And, why stop at one? Please, share with me other places where you think we ought to write, and I’ll write to them too!

I’ll definitely be writing more, perhaps armed with statistics like the following (from Top8Free.com):

Prevalence of food allergies in the United States

Ninety percent of food allergies in the United States are caused by eight foods:  Milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and shellfish.  This website is dedicated to a diet free of these allergens.  Of course, it is possible to be allergic to just about any protein.  In Japan, rice allergy is one of the offenders.

Just to give you a sense of how many kids are suffering from food allergies today, here is a table of the most common food allergies.  This does not count children with milk-soy protien intollerance or Celiac disease, only children with Ig-E mediated food allergies.

Percentage of young children with allergy to:

  • Milk 2.5%
  • Egg 1.3%
  • Soy 1.1% (There is little agreement on this number.  Estimates range from 1 to 5%)
  • Wheat 1.0%
  • Peanut 0.8%
  • Tree nuts 0.2%
  • Fish 0.1%
  • Shellfish 0.1%
  • Overall 6 to 8% of population

Percentage of adults with allergy to:

  • Shellfish 2.0%
  • Peanut 0.6%
  • Tree nuts 0.5%
  • Fish 0.4%
  • Milk  0.3%
  • Egg 0.2%
  • Soy 0.2%
  • Overall 3.7%

Source: Hugh A. Sampson, MD. “Update on food allergy“, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, May 2004

While writing to politicians does gain some inroads, there are other productive avenues to explore.

 

Food Allergies and the Food Network…


So, during Food Allergy Awareness Week, I urged others with allergies that we may want to take the focus off of the government and move it on to other titans in the food industry.  While I said it ought to be next year’s plan, I started early.  I submitted a note via contact form at the Food Network site, and this is the reply I received (my original message following);

From: Scripps Networks Customer Service <IS6061_22115@is.instantservice.com>
To: ____@_____________.___
Sent: Thu, May 20, 2010 2:57:14 PM
Subject: RE: Food Network Specials (#6563-175954277-3355)

Thank you for your email.

We appreciate the time you took to contact us and will be glad to forward your comments and suggestions to the Programming Department for review.

Scripps Networks
Customer Service

Show: Food Network Specials
Cable Company:
Last Viewed:
Type: question

Comment:
Hello Foodie Friends,

I write to you today to express my disappointment in that fact that I haven’t seen a prominent (or any) acknowledgment of this week as Food Allergy Awareness Week, either on your website or on the network itself.

According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network:

• More than 12 million Americans have food allergies. That’s one in 25, or 4% of the population.

• The annual number of emergency room visits due to food-induced anaphylaxis in the U.S. ranges from 50,000 to 125,000, depending on the source.

• Eight foods account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S.: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

• Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.

These are just a few of many other interesting and informative statistics.  As a (or THE) leader in food related information and entertainment, I feel that you ought to consider yourselves somewhat responsible for informing chefs and cooks everywhere of the dangers of cross-contamination.

I love watching many of your programs, and would love to see one geared toward allergy-friendly meals, procedures, and adaptations.  Even a one-off special with several food chefs or someone intelligent/informative with impeccable cleanliness in the kitchen like Alton Brown would be awesome… but even an online article or PSA would be a great start.

Like Spider-Man’s uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility”.  You, my friends, are the great food power.

Many state governments have declared this week Food Allergy Awareness Week.  With your help, we could sway the rest of the states and perhaps the Federal Government next year!

Here are some resources for your convenience:

► Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network: http://www.foodallergy.org/
► Food Allergy Initiative: http://www.faiusa.org

Thank you for your time & attention, I hope to hear from you soon, and look forward to your thoughts on the issue at hand!

-Eric

____@_____________.___

Odd.  Who are the Scripps Networks Customer Service?  Is this automated.  It took over a week to get a reply, and this was it.  I’m highly disappointed.  I’m going to have to try an email onslaught, & perhaps some snail mail.

Food Allergy Awareness Week


If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’re most likely already annoyed by my Food Allergy Awareness Week related updates, links, and tweets.  I would apologize, but I’m not sorry.  I rant occasionally about my deathfish troubles without the need of a week dedicated to it, and I generally get at least a good dialog going.  I thank you know for your patience and interest.  This week is set aside for just such ranting and lunacy, and as one of the afflicted, I feel it’s my duty to be vocal all week.

Again… I realize that food allergy cures and research aren’t top priority to everyone, and that there are many many other diseases and health issues that also deserve research and attention… a lot of them much higher on the “urgency” scale.  But, I refer you to the aforementioned duty to be vocal this week.

There are many food allergy stories out there this week if you’re looking for them.  You’ve heard my rant, now I invite you to hear the stories of others.

These sites have many many excellent resources for information, education, activism, & general awareness:

I encourage you to take the time and explore the sites if you’d like to know what it’s like to deal with an allergy yourself, or have a child with a severe allergy.  (You can also hit up my Allergies category.)

For my fellow Food Allergy Afflicted Friends…

While I get behind these campaigns to wrote to your local, state, & national politicians…  I just get a feeling that this needs to come form somewhere else.  Maybe it’s a political ideaology thing… I don’t want toe government to take care of me.  Perhaps I don’t want the government to force people to take care of me.  I feel that if that’s the case, it will be a bare minimum.  We need to get the food and health industries behind this movement.  Companies have to want to be allergy and cross-contamination friendly because it gives them an edge on the competition.

Instead of writing to a politician and getting a nifty gold-sealed proclamation… I’d rather see a special on the Food Network, a cooking publication that’s not allergy related already to pick up on it and do a special issue. I’d like to see Pizza Hut finally tell me where and how their sauce may come into contact with shellfish. I’d rather know why Subway uses one knife to cut all of their sandwiches.  I’d love to know why restaurants with multiple deep fryers don’t assign one for shellfish and one for other foods.

I’d like to see labels have to declare more than just the big 8 allergens, but to clearly define all ingredients. Even mollusks, which I’m allergic to (and which fall under the “shellfish” category) don’t have to be listed prominently under current FALCPA regulations.  There are many other things that people are allergic to… corn, peppers, chocolate, … it’s imperative that everything gets labeled!

We also need to stick together.  To me, it seems like the bulk of allergy literature relates to wheat/gluten and peanuts, and these are the ones people are most aware of.  You can somewhat easily get peanut butter substitutes, and on the other side of the ‘Burgh there’s even a gluten-free bakery.  I’ve never seen a place advertise “Shellfish Free!”  It makes me a little jealous.  (I always joke with the wife that if I ever win the lottery, I’m opening a restaurant called “F___ Shellfish”.)

I’d like to remind all of us in the top 8 that there are not only eight categories of us, but many many others without a name or a voice out there.

Let’s go after the Food Industry next ear, and not the government.

PA Gov. Ed Rendell mailed me a proclamation!


Food Allergy Awareness WeekI got an exciting piece of mail from the Office of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania today.  It looks to actually be signed in felt-tip pen by Ed Rendell himself, or at least stamped on by one of his staff.  It’s got a nifty raised gold seal, and came in an official looking (& taxpayer money wasting) blue folder.

It’s a proclamation declaring the week of May 9th-15th, 2010 as Food Allergy Awareness Week in Pennsylvania.  I believe they’ve declared it in years past, not sure why they need to re-do it every year… but I’m guessing this was sparked by an email I sent recently thanks to FAAN.  Their theme this year is to “Respect Every Bite”.

Check out some photos:

PA FAAW Proclamation - Folder PA FAAW Proclamation - Inside

Here’s a scan of the proclamation itself…

PA Governor Food Allergy Awareness Week 2010 Proclamation

And, here’s the text:

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Governor’s Office

PROCLAMATION

FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK

May 9-15, 2010

WHEREAS, Twelve million Americans have food allergies; 3 million are children under the age of 18; and

WHEREAS, research shows that the prevalence of food allergy is increasing among children; and

WHEREAS, eight foods cause 90 percent of all food allergy reactions in the U.S.: shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, and wheat. Symptoms of a food allergic reaction can include hives, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress, and swelling of the throat; and

WHEREAS, food allergy reactions cause 50,000 to 125,000 visits to the emergency room each year in the U.S., depending on the source. Reactions typically occur when an individual unknowingly eats a food containing an ingredient to which they are allergic; and

WHEREAS, there is no cure for food allergy, and scientists do not understand why. Strict avoidance of the offending food is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction; and

WHEREAS, anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death; and

WHEREAS, the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about food allergy and anaphylaxis.

THEREFORE, I, Edward G. Rendell, Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, do hereby proclaim May 9-15, 2010 as FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK in Pennsylvania.

GIVEN under my hand and the Seal of the Governor, at the City of Harrisburg, on this seventh day of May in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, and of the Commonwealth the two hundred and thirty-fourth.

EDWARD G. RENDELL
Governor

I just thought it may excite some other allergy afflicted and/or aware people out there, and wanted to share the good news!  I know it’s not much, but the proclamation is a small step in the larger awareness of the issue on the whole… and a recognition by the government may lead to further legislation.

Oddly, I think the best part of it is that I got something from the highest state office with a gold seal on it that also contains the word “diarrhea”.  If that’s not a win, then I don’t know what is.

Taco Bell has purchased my gratitude!


I got a letter in the mail today from Taco Bell.  You may be familiar with my emails to them concerning the death-filled tacos that they were recently peddling.  This is perhaps the best reply I’ve ever received to any of my either serious or goofy letters to any company.

I’ll dispense with the usual long-winded introduction and get right to it…

Letter form Taco Bell about Shrimp Tacos and Taco Bell Bucks!

You can see that along with the letter, I received five $5 Taco Bell Bucks certificates. That’s $25 in death-free Taco Bell food. That’s got to be the coolest thing I’ve ever received besides my T-shirt from Turner’s.  I’m not sure if they’re buying me off, rewarding me, if they make so much profit per item that it really doesn’t matter if they give this much away for free, or what.  This almost makes me want to write back to Pillsbury/Totino’s and make them feel ashamed for sending me three 35¢ coupons.  In fact, I may add that to the list.

The best, and I mean absolute best thing about this letter is that they’re forwarding my request to Pizza Hut.  Wow.  I trust you’ve seen my unanswered letters?  I can’t even express how hilarious and ridiculous and absolutely gratifying that is.


Death Taco


Death Taco. No, that’s not the coolest new metal or grindcore band, although maybe it should be.  It’s what I’m (of course) calling the newest Taco Bell menu item.  I have had some inquires as to why I hadn’t mentioned it yet.

Well, I did make a faint mention via Facebook or Twitter a while ago, but had declined to rant here as I’ve been relentlessly trying to contact Taco Bell.  You know how successful webforms are, so of course I got no answer from that, then I fished around for email addresses to send a full email, bugged them via Twitter for an address, and even posted an Ask Yahoo! question.  Out of nowhere, I finally received a reply, and I have no idea if it was in reply to the webform, my emails to random Yum! Brands and Taco Bell email addresses, or some other forum.

I’d like to share my original messages with you.  First the one via webform:

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco! Firstly, this isn’t about an incident at a specific Taco Bell, but the form didn’t allow room for general inquiries. I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.  I don’t think I can express my thoughts in a box with a mere 500-character limit. Do you have an actual email address where I can contact someone?

…And this was to some email addresses that I found after some Googling.

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 4:11 PM
Subject: Taco Fail
To: webmaster@tacobell.com (and a bunch of other addresses)

Hola, mis amigos de Titan Taco!

I’d like to express my disappointment with a commercial that I saw advertising new shrimp tacos. Well, I guess my disappointment is not with the commercial, but with the product… and the main ingredient.

I have a severe shellfish allergy, and Taco Bell has been a shellfish-free dining safe haven for me for years.  It’s one of the few places where I never had to worry about shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, etc. ending up in my food, or worse yet… crossing paths in the kitchen somewhere.

I will sadly have to cross Taco Bell off of my list of places to dine… but I’d like you to know that there are many of us out here with severe shellfish allergies who have an increasingly difficult time finding safe places to dine out.  Fast food joints have long been a safe-haven for those of us with a shellfish allergy… as most fine dining and now even chain family style restaurants have several shellfish dishes prepared on multiple kitchen surfaces.  Formerly, as long as I stayed away from Long John Silver’s, I was OK.  Taco Bell, KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, …were all safe places.

I guess I’ll now have to get my quick Mexican fix at Qdoba or Chipotle.

If you’d like to know what it’s like to dine out with a shellfish allergy, please read this blog post.

Here’s an excerpt…

If you know me in person, have dined out with me, or have ready any of my lunacy online… you most likely know what I have a severe shellfish allergy.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it means that I can’t eat any shellfish, or I go into anaphylactic shock.  Not only can I not eat the shellfish (that’s crustaceans & molluscs including but not limited to ,shrimp, prawns, lobster, crab, crayfish, oysters, mussels, clams, scallops, octopi, squid, snails, and probably even scorpions and pill bugs), but I can’t eat any food that comes into contact with it.  That means, if you cook shrimp on the grill, take it off, and put my steak on  without washing the surface, it’s the same as me eating the shrimp.

I certainly can’t expect the restaurant to clean the grill in between every meal, as that’s certainly not productive on their end… I just usually try to see where the shellfish is prepared, and eat from another cooking surface.  That seems easy enough, right?

I get that it’s my responsibility.  Yes, I’ve had an epi pen.  But I’d really love to not ever have the need to use one.  I’ve even considered getting Allergy Cards, but they seem a little pretentious or something… like my verbal reminder isn’t enough.

Well, getting me in to a place with shellfish is an issue in itself.  Why?  Well in with the aforementioned cooking surface issue…

I hope that this helps explain what people like me go through, and I hope that you re-consider selling death-filled tacos!

Running from the border,

-Eric

And, this is the reply, although I’m not sure if it’s the reply to one of the above messages, or in poking around on Twitter:

From: Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations) <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Date: Wed, Mar 31, 2010 at 7:30 PM
Subject: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com” <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Dear Eric,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about Shellfish allergens concerning our new Pacific Shrimp Tacos.  We want you to know that we take these matters very seriously and that the business of our customers is our top priority.  We value loyal customers such as yourself and would like to take the opportunity to win your business back.

To ,  to our customers who might have Shellfish allergens, we have displayed information at multiple locations in our fish.  These include Shrimp allergen signs that are placed on our window and door clings as well as in our ads where orders are taken.  While the Pacific Shrimp Tacos are offered for a limited time only, all Taco Bell employees have been trained and certified to not have any food products come in contact with Fish and Shellfish during cooking and/or serving.

We would like to send you some Taco Bell Bucks as a token of our thanks, so please email me back with your mailing address.  We hope you will continue to “Think Outside the Bun” at Taco Bell, and appreciate you taking the time to write to us.

Sincerely,
Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Public Relations

Rob Poetsch
Taco Bell Corp.
One Glen Bell Way
Irvine, CA 92618
O: 949-863-3915
F: 949-863-2252
rob.poetsch@tacobell.com

Of course, I needed to reply:

From: ERiC AiXeLsyD <world.and.lunar.domination@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: Pacific Shrimp Taco Inquiry
To: “Poetsch, Rob (Public Relations)” <Rob.Poetsch@yum.com>
Cc: “Hunsaker, Brittany (Contractor)” <Brittany.Hunsaker@yum.com>

Hello Rob,

Thank you for the reply!  I was beginning to wonder if Taco Bell has a stand on the issue.  While I am pleased to hear about the allergen warning signs along with the employee training and certification, I must say that I still have some reservations about safety.  I am relieved to hear that the shrimp tacos are available for a limited time only.

It is great that you take responsibility in posting signs about allergy warnings.  Your fellow Yum! Brands organization, Pizza Hut, ought to take note.  They display allergen information on their website, noting that the pizza sauce may come into contact with shellfish… but there’s no shellfish on the menu.  When I asked where the contamination may occur (e.g. in the processing/canning facility?) they were unable (or I sadly suspect unwilling) to provide a detailed response.

Back to the subject of Taco Bell… the giant window-clings showing what I’m sure to many is a succulent appetizing piece of shrimp spilling out of a lovely soft taco shell looks to me like a giant Mr. Yuck sticker or the old-time skull & cross-bones “poison” logo that you’d see in cartoons.  They serve as an effective if not spine-chilling reminder as to the presence of shellfish allergens on the premises.  They would also kick my survival instincts into gear, not even letting me enter the presence.  Seriously.  I would wager that right now, it would be pretty difficult to physically get me into a Taco Bell restaurant. My Eustachian tubes are starting to itch just thinking about it.  I realize that this is also a highly personal mental health issue, but one that ought not be taken lightly, as it’s grounded in a very real fear.

Recently I read the blog of a man who almost died when he ordered a vegetarian Indian potato curry dish that he was assured was safe.  Apparently the dish was flavored with a shrimp brine… which ought to be disturbing to vegetarians, vegans, kosher folks, and people with shellfish allergies.  This is alarming to say the least.  I realize that simple cross-contamination may not seem as serious as flavoring an entire dish with shrimp-juice, but I can assure you that it is indeed just as deadly.  Our friends with wheat/gluten and peanut allergies seem to get a lot of attention lately, hopefully it will spill over to the rest of us with the “big 8” and those who aren’t even covered by that umbrella.

Have you taken the allergen training, or do you know what’s involved?  I am finding it hard to tactfully express my concerns about the way that the message was conveyed to Taco Bell employees and the actual willingness of the employees to understand and comply.  We’ve all watched training videos on various subjects and rolled our eyes, promptly taken pamphlets and placed them in the trash, or been angered when someone who doesn’t do our job gives us a new or added process that we must adhere to when we’re sure that the person suggesting the changes has never been in our shoes.

While I mean no disrespect to Taco Bell or any fast food restaurant, have you been to a Taco Bell lately?  Sometimes I am concerned about the personal hygiene and motivation of the employees let alone the cleanliness and efficiency of the kitchen.  Sadly, the low quality and poor service of fast food establishments has become a passively accepted facet of 21st Century life in the United States.  For evidence, I give you the term “McJob“.

I have a theory that for so long now, it has been expressed to kids everywhere to get higher education so you don’t end up as a laborer, janitor, or fast food employee… that fast food jobs have garnered such a negative connotation, the only people left willing to take the jobs are the highly unmotivated individuals, people with no other options, or people using the part time jobs for extra cash with no real pride in their work since there’s no real fear of losing the job or striving to move up the chain of command.

I would invite you to imagine that in the Taco Bell kitchen where you are about to dine there are the standard (and innovative!) sour cream and cheese caulking-gun looking dispensers all loaded on the food preparation area… along side a caulking-gun-looking dispenser filled with a highly toxic pest-control chemical that looks interestingly enough like cheese or sour cream.  Would you still feel safe in eating there?  Sure.  The employees can read.  Sure, they know the difference.  Are they ever rushed in a fast food kitchen?  Do mistakes ever happen?  Of course.  I’m guessing you would at least think twice or watch closely before you dine.

I understand that this scenario is preposterous because I would hope that some sort of federal regulations would forbid any toxic chemicals from being stored in a food preparation area.  No such federal regulations exist for people like me, although Massachusetts is moving forward with this type of thing.

While I trust that your training an certification was put forth with the best of intentions, you must understand that I question its implementation, practicality, and how it’s received and practiced by what amounts to be the first line of contact with your customers… the Taco Bell team member.  What exactly does the certification say?  Does each employee have it, or does a certification apply to an entire restaurant or shift?

I challenge you to quiz the workers at Taco Bells in various locations… inner city, suburbs, malls, and the combo units, and see how much the workers really know about cross-contamination and allergy issues and how they’re observed in a Taco Bell kitchen.  (Hopefully, they fare better than Subway employees.)

All that said, I appreciate and applaud the considerable thought and effort that has already gone into allergen awareness.  Spreading knowledge is the first step.  Did you know that May 9th-15th 2002 is the thirteenth annual Food Allergy Awareness Week?  Now is the time to act and inform, my friend!

I would certainly appreciate some Taco Bell Bucks, if you’ll understand that I may hold on to them until well after the current Pacific Shrimp Taco promotion is over. (Pending reviews, it may not last all that long, eh?) Taco Bell had previously been a shellfish-free Mexican-ish fast food haven for me for many many years.  I can’t tell you how many tacos I ate at the mall nearby to where I grew up when I was a teenager.  A dollar went much further at Taco Bell than it did at McDonald’s, Burger King or anywhere else in the food court.

My address is…

Eric Aixelsyd
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Pittsburgh, PA  XXXXX-XXXX

I would like to thank you once again for your time and the thoughtful informative reply.  I look forward to perhaps what may be a continued dialog about allergy awareness issues in the fast food industry, and more specifically relating to Taco Bell and other Yum! Brands.

-Eric

Wow, do I hope they write back.